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Music & Poetry

The melancholy and sentimental verses of the songs and poetry of the Mid-Victorian and Civil War Era filled the hearts of home and hearth with both joy and sorrow. During the war years , lyrics and verse roused the emotions and patriotism of a divided nation.

The sentimental song The Vacant Chair was inspired by a true story. In July of 1861, John William "Willie" Grout, an 18 year old student fom Worcester, Massachusetts joined up with the Fifteenth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He was killed at the Battle of Ball's Bluff in Virginia on October 21 of 1861. It was not until November 5 that his body was found. Willie's remains were sent back to his family in Massachusetts and he was laid to rest on November 12.

Willie's absence at Thanksgiving and his family's despair inspired Henry S. Washburn to write a poem about their loss. Famous songwriter, George F. Root wrote the haunting melody for Washburn's words. The Vacant Chair became a success with families and soldiers, both North and South. It became a sorrowful reminder of the reality and cruelty of war.

The Vacant Chair

Music by George F. Root

Lyrics by Henry S. Washburn

We shall meet but we shall miss him
There will be one vacant chair.
We shall linger to caress him
While we breathe our ev'ning prayer.
When one year ago we gathered,
Joy was in his mild blue eye.
Now the golden cord is severed,
and our hopes in ruin lie.

We shall meet, but we shall miss him.
There will be one vacant chair.
We shall linger to caress him
While we breathe our ev'ning prayer.

At our fireside, sad and lonely,
Often will the bosom swell
At remembrance of the story
How our noble Willie fell.
How he strove to bear the banner
Thro' the thickest of the fight
And uphold our country's honor
In the strength of manhood's might.


True, they tell us wreaths of glory
Evermore will deck his brow,
But this soothes the anguish only,
Sweeping o'er our heartstrings now.
Sleep today, O early fallen,
In thy green and narrow bed.
Dirges from the pine and cypress
Mingle with the tears we shed.